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Christie and Stevens ready to fly the flag for US race walkers in Muscat and Oregon

It’s doubtful every top race walker will be invited to goat yoga on a second date – but it did the trick for Robyn Stevens and Nick Christie.

Even less likely, the US champions went to a slightly risqué show the night before, because, as Stevens puts it: “I had a friend who was a dancer in the show, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

“I wasn’t sure what Nick made of it. After all, we weren’t dating then.”

What she got was Christie wondering how to react. Should he look the other way? Should he just go with the flow?

The flow won, and the pair have been an item ever since.

As imagined, the Californians train some sessions together when permissible, although the pandemic has made it tough. Right now, one is in San Diego; the other in the northern part of the state, but ready to reunite in the first week of February. However, they talk on a daily basis, which is just as well, because Stevens’ coach is Jacinto Garzón, who also looks after European champion Maria Perez.

“My Spanish is not so good,” says Stevens, “but Nick had been with the group before and can translate some of the more technical stuff.

Christie adds: “The language barrier can be a bit of a problem. You’ll hear something like ‘quad stretch’ and I’ll take a moment to recognise it.”

The translations have clearly been a boon for the 38-year-old who defied expectations to rise from ranked 60th before the Olympic 20km to place 33rd in Sapporo. Christie, eight years her junior, also made the cut at 20km to finish 50th in 1:34:37.

The bonus was that, for the first time in a while, and with masks firmly in place, the pair could hug each other.

There have been hiccups along the way for Stevens that involved retiring in 2004, suffering full-on anorexia; banging her head so badly it limited her to only one sport as part of a recovery programme: race walking.

It wasn’t the ideal way to come full circle and re-join the competitive fray. But it paid off for the race walker who has eyes on maybe the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 at the beginning of March, but definitely the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 in July. After all, Oregon is comparative jog up the road compared to some journeys US race walkers undertake.

However, the latest fly in the ointment involves Stevens’s DNF at the US 35km Race Walking Championships in Santee, California, on 16 January. A tightness in the leg caused by a possible weakened Gluteus minimus muscle compromised her style, and she was forced to call it a day at 23km. It turned out to be costly in both senses of the word.

The first prize $8,000 prize money went south, representing a third of her yearly income as a race walker, as did an automatic berth in Muscat.

It now needs one of the top three women to pull out for Stevens to go in the longer race, although there is still a chance at 20km, where she is the top ranked US woman.

Christie, meanwhile, won the men’s race by nearly 11 minutes in 2:48:48, and is going to contest the new 35km championship distance in the Omani capital. In fact, he would like to double with the 20km if possible, later in the year in Oregon, just to see what happens.

“I’d like to be able to double: that’s been a quiet goal,” he said. “I wasn’t able to do that at 20km and 50km, but I’d like to double now, just to say I’ve done it.”

The prospect of competing at the Shangri-la of USA track-and-field is something both relish. Christie positively beams at the recollection of his third-place finish at the 2012 Olympic Trials at Hayward Field.

“It was my first year of race walking. We did a 20,000m track race and got to do a lap of victory,” he said. “I didn’t really know about Hayward Field before. But when I got there, it was kinda cool: I felt that energy – that history.”

However, they agree race walking in the USA is not “…as competitive as it should be. I’ll say for myself I’m not as competitive as I’d like to be; we haven’t got a ton of depth,” adds Christie.

The problem appears to emanate from a lack of inclusion at high school level, and therefore no real pathway to the college system. Stevens points out it’s no surprise most top US race walkers come from the New York area. They still have a female walks high-school programme, and used to have a male one in the 1990s, but sadly no longer. Just by being Californian, Stevens reckons they are currently the outliers of the event in the US.

Even so, with a 1:33:34 PB for 20km, she has her eyes set on the national records at the distance currently held by Maria Michta-Coffey (1:30:49) on the road, Teresa Vaill on the track (1:33:28.15), and at 35km. After Eugene, she wants one more tilt at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“My dream was to go to an Olympics; checkmark – did that,” she says. “But part of that dream was to bring my family with me. As I didn’t get to do that, 2024 would be a good opportunity. It would also be the poetic place to retire: France is the place of love.

“But if we can make it work financially, I fully intend to support Nick beyond 2028 and even 2032, if he wants to,” she adds. “He’s capable of going much faster (than his 1:24:15 PB).”

The pair are looking forward to being with each other again, and have come a long way since goat yoga.

In fact, drug testers arriving on their doorstep for routine tests have frequently joked about two for the price of one.

Stevens laughs: “They see it almost like a double date.”

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